Novel Brewing Company

Local Small Batch Brewery and Tasting Room in Oakland, CA. :: Tasting Room open Wed-Fri 4pm-10pm, Sat 12pm-10pm, Sun 12pm-10pm

The World According To Garp :: Chapter 4

I hate writing, I love having written.
— Dorothy Parker

What does it take to start a brewery? Granted this post is probably premature, but I've learned a ton since putting our plan into action. Everything you read out there is mostly true. It takes a lot of money, hard work, and time, but I think the thing I had to learn the most was a sense of patience. We live in a city where there are a ton of construction projects mushrooming up due to the current extreme growth of Oakland. This means that the people who need to approve your project are probably overworked, and have a limited bandwidth to listen to how your project is different from others, or don't want to hear that certain new legislation was passed which removes requirements on your plan, or that you made a poor business decision and now you need the city to do something to make things better--faster. No, things move at a constant rate and in a certain order, so fall in line, and wait like the others (of course if you have trillions of dollars, I'm sure these cosmopolitan hurdles do not pertain to you). There have been those compassionate souls who have been willing to listen, and there have been those who take the hard line and do not budge.  Patience costs money, but when working on a large (well, large to us) project, it is important to consider things on the entire scale, and not get bogged down on a single item. Choose your battles. Figure out which road blocks are show stoppers and which are only inconveniences. Here are some other bullet points to consider when starting a brewery:

  • Be patient, and take as long as you need to find the perfect location AND a lease that will work for you. There will be a point where every space you look at will look like the perfect space that "just needs a few things" or a lease that "you are willing to take a risk on." This is one of the few time during startup you are not hemorrhaging money, so take your time, find a balance between the least amount of tenant improvements and the lowest rent. You probably won't find both.      
  • If you can, submit your conditional use permit application with the city before you enter into a lease agreement, or negotiate a free rent period to cover this time. It could take over 3 months to get approval.
  • Visit the city planning department, city engineer/building department, and county health department and make a list of all the requirements in order to submit your plans for approval. Determine which plans can be submitted in parallel as to save some time.  
  • No matter who recommends that you work with someone, or what their portfolio looks like, always get two other quotes/proposals to compare. It will be important to consider how you interact with the individual and not just the price quoted, as you can save money by being able to communicate your needs clearly.
  • Find someone to bounce ideas off of--don't operate in a silo.  You will drive yourself crazy. Someone will need to talk you off the ledge at least once.
  • Unless it is absolutely known, add a 20% contingency to everything. Continually update your projections with known values. Things cost more than they should. You have no control over that.
  • Always review all work performed. There are going to be mistakes made. Only you will care enough to spot them and fix it.
  • You should be able to understand, at least at a high level, all aspects of the project, and research the things you don't. If you can't read an electrical engineering drawing, you will not know if you have the right plan to match your requirements.
  • No one cares about your project as much (or even close) as you do. Don't expect professionals to work at their highest level 100% of the time. Think about everyone you know that works at their job. This is how people will work on your project. It is up to you to account for that. 
  • Find a way to capture word of mouth excitement.
  • At the same time there are no hops and all the hops.
  • Find a lawyer that is willing to give their opinion and a recommendation--not just translate legalese.
  • Take your time with those who rush you, and motivate those that slow you down.
  • Learn how to make decisions without all the necessary information.

This all assumes you know how to make awesome, high quality beer, and operate a brewery business. I could go on and on, but at this point, if you want to know more, we should just have a pint together!

If you feel like this helped you in any way, please consider contributing to our indiegogo campaign.  Thanks!